The Grasshopper was a dot of life in the town of Ditchford. It wasn’t quite a ghost town, but still far from a bustling and hustling metro. The Grasshopper’s lights shined for miles in the desert, dragging people to it like moths. Any passerby who wanted something in their stomach, and a safe place to sleep got it. Regardless of money. Percy had lived there for nearly 10 years, and became a handyman to the owner, Lucy. She was an older lady, not frayed or slowing down from her older age. She took no nonsense from anyone, stranger or friend, especially if it was from Percy. Percy was a good man, and a better cowboy, though he could be frustrating in some ways.
Percy rounded up the chickens and pigs, hollering into the early morning air. Lucy went to the door, holding two cups of coffee, “Percy! Why are you yellin’ like a banshee?”
“Ah, it’s all those chickens know how to respond too!” He replied, now holding Miss Whiskey, a sweet little hen. He went to the door, received the cup, and took a long sip. “You should know that Lucy.”
“You are the reason I need a hearing aid.” She said, looking at the horizon. The sun was rising on the little town, gearing for the day. “You’re lucky I like you.” She added, meaning for them to go in.
He sent the chicken to her coop, “Here you go darlin’. There’s a good girl.”
Lucy started breakfast for the tavern guests. Percy sat at the bar counter, playing his banjo. Lucy gave him a look, but let him play. The locals entered at their own paces, leaving at their leisure. The Innkeeper entered, declaring to the room that a stranger was arriving.
“Who is it?” Lucy questioned her.
“A handsome man,” Was Miss Jupiter’s answer. She went straight to the bar. “He’s walking from the desert, he looks like a samurai!”
“A samurai? Haven’t seen one in a while.” Lucy decided, handing Jupiter a plate of hash and thinly sliced ham. “I’ve read samurais are dying out. If they’re around they’re far and few in between.”
The doors opened, alerting everyone’s attention now to the new-comer. By Jupiter’s word, he was handsome. He was a man who stood tall, long black hair tied up, dressed in a thin airy kimono, a sword at his hip. He did not look like a noble warrior, hell-bent upon a mission. He looked frayed from travel, his eyes were the eyes of one who had seen heartbreak many times over. The room drank him in, then returned to their business. Jupiter looked at Percy, who swung his legs over and stood up completely. She smirked and glanced back at Lucy. Lucy rolled her eyes.
“Howdy,” Percy offered, tipping his hat. “Join us at the counter if you’d like, stranger.”
Percy was the type not to be nervous around handsome men, but he did like to try to impress them. It did not work often, but he tried honestly.
The samurai went to the counter, adjusting his things to be set down on the floor. He sat down, gazing at the owner. “Good morning.” were his first words. His voice was steady, though hushed.
“What do they call you?” Lucy asked. She offered coffee, tea, or a plain glass of water. He asked for water.
“That’s a nice name,” Jupiter offered. Percy returned to his spot at the counter. “Where you from handsome?”
“Far, very far,”
“Mysterious,” She chose. “You know some ladies prefer straight talkin’.”
“I do not intend to impress any woman.”
“I see.” She winked at Percy. “Well, let me apologize then.”
“There is no reason to apologize.”
“You want some breakfast Mr. Hisatomo?” Lucy asked him.
“I am afraid I do not have much to pay you.”
“Don’t concern yourself with that,” She answered. “Life’s about helping each other, even a stranger.”
“You have my sincerest thanks.”
“I ain’t got a lot of food you’re probably used to.” She offered.
“Whatever you give will be wonderful.”
“Pay me back with stories,” Lucy told him kindly. “Tell me ‘bout yourself. Whatever you want to, that is.”
He mulled for a moment, trying to think of what he wanted to say. She gave him a plate of eggs and hash. “American food is unusual to me.” He offered. “That is I have not yet much of it before I came here.”
“Are you from the coast?” asked Percy.
“I...arrived from the East, yes,” He answered the cowboy.
“Ah, you traveled from the ocean. You met some pirates?”
“Just sailors.” Aoyama removed the chopsticks from his bag and began to eat. “They were very kind to me.”
“Are you a samurai?” Lucy asked, breaking. “Or is that get-up a front?”
“I am a samurai. I...believe my clothes give it away.”
“Hey, I don’t assume nothin’.” She said, holding her hands up. “You’re a handsome fella, but that’s all I can assume just based on your face.”
“That is not true. But thank you.”
“We get riff-raff and weird ones in here, all of them. Met an Irishmen the other day, spoke perfect Mandarin. That lass over there,” She nodded to Jupiter now speaking to a table. “The Innkeeper? She can speak ten languages and used to be an actress. Tried to pass through one day, but never left. I’m what they used to call a vagabond, mother to all kids and men. Women tend to take care of themselves around here.” Percy slipped from his spot, nearly dropping his instrument. “This one is Percy, he’s my lovely little vexation.”
“Percy, like Perseus?” Aoyama finally looked at him, eyes nearly striking him down.
“Uh..no! No sir, it’s just Percy. Percy “Bullettooth” Sullivan.”
“Why do you call me Sir? I believe we are the same age.”
“Well, I, I reckon that’s the correct way you speak to someone. The way my Ma taught me.”
“I see. You may just call me Aoyama.”
“Uh, yes Mr. Aoyama.” He tried again.
A smile finally arrived on the warrior’s face, warmth spread all over it. “Bullet Tooth?”
“Oh, here let me show ya,” He opened his mouth and pulled his bottom lip down, exposing the front baring teeth. All of them were silver, in contrast to the others. “My Pa knocked me and my Ma out one night and tried to run off with one of the tavern girls. I chased him for nearly ten miles and beat him senseless. The dentist and the blacksmith melted down his gun, he was the Sheriff, and made them into teeth for me. Ma divorced him the next day and sent him into the desert with nothing on his back but a shirt.”
The warrior’s eyes seemed to dance. “Interesting. My mother was abused by my father for many years. She was not prosecuted when she cut off the hand that attempted to strike her again. He left our village with only shame.”
“I like her.” Percy smiled, brightly. “Is she in the living?”
“Yes. She is now in Tokyo, and very content. How is your mother?”
“Oh, Ma’s up in New York. Living with a real nice lady named Briar. Their uh, roommates you know. Not that there would be anything wrong if her feelings were stronger! I reckon she needs some love in her life.”
“My mother is now married to a woman,” Aoyama said. “Though she always loved all genders, she had the misfortune to marry a man first. She has told me I was the only blessing that came from him.”
“Well, I reckon bad men can make good things, even though they’re nothing.”
Lucy smiled, clearing her throat, “Percy? You want to go out and unpack the wagons.”
“Yes Ma’am I will.”
“Thank you,” She watched Percy replace his hat, excuse himself, then leave. “He is a foolish man. Every cowboy I’ve met is a bit foolish though.”
“A cowboy. I should have assumed yes,” Aoyama reflected. “Many people I’ve met, they say Samurais and Cowboys are similar. Merely unacquainted by where our creeds tend to live. Times have changed, and the world has been very scary sometimes.”
“I know, tell me about it.”
Aoyama went to an Inn room. He surveyed his things, determining he would need to find a dressmaker. He went to the showers, returning to the room feeling a great sense of peace. There was a shout down the hall, shocking him for a moment, but he thought nothing of it. He redressed and began to brush his hair to rebraid it. His ears did not pick up the sounds around him at first. He felt a presence near him, stirring him. The samurai grabbed his sword, switching to see who, hand gripping the handle. A child stood there, confused by the sight. Aoyama’s heart slowly stopped pounding. “You should not sneak up on people,” He said a little sharper. “Someone could hurt you.”
“Who are you?” They asked him. “Are you the Samurai?”
“Yes. I suppose I am….who are you?”
“I’m a kid!”
“What is your name?”
“Tatum.” They answered. “They used to call me Edward but I changed it.”
“Oh, I see.”
Tatum sat down on the floor watching him, “Miss Jupiter says Samurais are dying...is that true?”
Aoyama tried to recover, remembering how blunt children could be. “We are….a creed. We will never die, just appear as we are needed.”
“Oh,” Tatum answered. “Can I braid your hair?”
“I would prefer if you did not.”
“Okay, that’s okay.” They answered.
Jupiter knocked before entering, “I thought I heard you, Tatum! Leave Mr. Hisatomo alone. Go down and help the boys in the kitchen.”
“Okay,” The child stood and dashed away.
“I’m sorry, please don’t mind them,” Jupiter said, smiling. “Please excuse me-”
“Miss Jupiter,” He called to her. She stopped, remaining at the door. “May I ask you something?”
“I will need the assistance of a tailor for my clothing. Is there one nearby?”
“Uh-huh, I can send for her if you’d like?”
The evening started with the town gathering together. No reason, no holiday, just for fun. People ran out to the streets lighting sparklers, laughing and delighted. The Samurai walked past the festivities, seeing the town in something splendid. “Mr. Aoyama!” called the cowboy from over his shoulder. They met at the edge of the walkway under the lanterns. He tipped his hat, “Evenin’. Did I startle you?”
“Cowboy rules: you call for a man rather than sneak up on him.”
“As to give him warning for a shooting?”
“Yes! But I wasn’t going to shoot you.”
“I know. Not yet.” And he smiled a little coy.
The cowboy chuckled, “May I offer you a drink?”
“Is there sake?”
“Sake? Uhhh, let’s ask Lucy.”
“I do not want to be picky. But sake is all I drink and shall drink until I am dead.”
“You don’t have to explain yourself.”
Lucy did have sake that had never been opened. They sat at a small table near the tavern’s doors. The Cowboy, being the gentleman, poured a full whiskey glass for his guest. The warrior covered his mouth to stifle his laugh, “You misunderstand.”
“Sake is...very strong. You are meant to drink in smaller glasses. We will both be drunk if we consume all of it.”
“Oh,” Percy got red from his own embarrassment.
“We should share this much.” The warrior poured into the other glass, extending it to him. “Are you armed?”
“Always, I got my gun.”
“Perhaps you should not shoot with it.”
Percy took a sip, then burst into coughing, turning away from the table. Aoyama sipped, smiling. Percy sat up, wiping his forehead, “It’s very good.” He cleared his throat again. The Samurai laughed. “I don’t drink very often. Gotta stay level-headed.”’
“I do not either. But I will make an exception.” A pair of children ran past, nearly tripping in the sand. “How many children live here?”
“12, mostly orphans. But we raise ‘em all the same.”
“Hm,” He looked at the children receiving replacement sparklers. “Children should not be afraid of anything. They seem to be happy here. It should be an adult’s duty to protect children.”
“Is that part of your code Mr. Aoyama? The Samurai code?”
“Our code is called Bushido.” He replied. “I am sure that applies.”
“Bushido, we don’t have a formal name for ours.”
“What does that entail?”
“Never shoot first, never go back on your word, always tell the truth, always be gentle to children, elderly and animals, help those who need it, be a good worker, respect women, parents and, the law, and always act with courage.”
“Bushido is of eight principles: Justice, Courage, Compassion, Respect, Integrity, Honor, Loyalty, and Self-Control. They are not written down. Though there are characters to represent each.”
Tatum slipped from the game of tag and found Percy. “Bullettooth!” They declared.
“Howdy, howdy, howdy,” Tatum was placed on Percy’s knee. “Howdy, Mr. His...His-”
“Hisatomo.” He replied, warmly. He took another sip of alcohol.
“Hisatomo!” They repeated. “Bullettooth, Jupiter says you fancy Mr. Hisatomo.”
The cowboy nearly spat up his drink, “Don’t you listen to her! Miss Jupiter likes to tease me.”
“Yeah, but I can see why you’d fancy him.”
“Fancy?” Aoyama offered.
“Don’t uh...concern yourself with it Mr. Aoyama- Tatum!” The child took a small sip of the drink, feeling the shock hit them. They spat it out at once. “Good God kid, you can’t sip from glasses that isn’t yours.”
“I thought it was water!” Tatum cried, wiping his tongue.
“Well that wasn’t good was it?”
“No,” They pouted.
“Are you gonna do that again?”
“No sir,” He answered.
“Good,” The cowboy mussed their hair. “Go get water, and do not tell Miss Lucy you did that. She will murder me.” The child got off his knee and ran into the fray of people. Percy laughed, looked at Aoyama who looked a little baffled, though amused.
“I am surprised his reaction was not much more expressive.”
They spoke a little more. Aoyama finished the glass and seemed completely sound. Percy got halfway before stopping. He felt his brain buzz and his vision start to fuzz. There was a loud echo of shots in the distance. “Hm, you think some of the kids got fireworks out there?”
“I hope so.”
A cloud of sand rode from the distance. “God...blast it!” Percy managed, standing up. He paused for a moment, regaining the ability to plant himself. A group of three men rode into town stirring everyone to gather the children into safety. Tatum went to Jupiter who gently pushed them into the Inn. Mr. Aoyama remained seated. The group was three men dressed like cowboys, looking like they were on a mission. “Evening gents.” declared Percy, hands remaining not near his guns.
“Are you the Sullivan boy?”
“Yes sir I am. What business do you have with me?”
“Your Pa is a downtrodden no-good bastard.”
“You’re correct sir, but what does that mean to me?”
“Your Pa made deals with us and never kept his end.” said the leader. “What we want is vindication.”
Percy glanced around seeing the crowds nervous, lingering to watch. “Gentlemen, I do not like to do business in the open. Children about you know. Can I offer you a drink and we’ll settle my Pa’s matters?”
They agreed to the terms. After tying the horses they entered the tavern together. Aoyama knew it was not his business, but he followed. Lucy looked at all three of the strangers, cleared her throat softly. “What’s your poison?”
The leader saw Aoyama returning the bottle. “What’s that he’s got there?”
“Never had it. I’ll drink that.”
Aoyama extended the bottle. The man snatched it, scanning the bottle, popped it and took a swig. His coughing fit shook him. “Oh tapdancing Christ! That’s vile!”
Percy tried very hard not to laugh. He caught Aoyama’s look of contempt. “Let’s try whiskey!”
Business began. The cowboys explained Mr. Sullivan had conned them, and they had found Percy who was the next best thing. “What was your deal?”
“I put out a hit, and he didn’t deliver.”
“Ah. I see...well I am afraid I can not help you there.”
The tension hit the room like a kick to the jaw. “What’cha mean?”
“I am willing to do anything for an apology, but I will not kill anyone. Is there anything else?”
“I want my promise kept.” The leader growled.
“I did not make that promise, and I will not keep it.”
“He is with honor,” Aoyama said. “Why must-”
“You stay out of this chinaman.”
The tension was now choking the room.
Lucy shouted with her fists clenching, “Get out of my tavern you reptiles.”
Percy showed his gun, eyes glaring. “I told you your answer. Now I suggest you get out.”
The cowboys looked between the others. The Samurai’s hand went to his sword. No one spoke, daring the other to strike. Percy withdrew his gun, “I don’t want to shoot you.”
“You're a waste of my bullets.” said the man. He nodded for his team to head to the doors. Percy sighed, turning. Aoyama caught the sight of the stranger’s hand back to his belt. He shouted, throwing himself forward, and the bullet pinged off of his sword. It flew back, nicking the stranger’s neck.
“I dare you to test me.” Aoyama nearly hissed.
There was no testing. Three men rode away into the night with the fear of God in their bones.
Percy gazed at the moon’s glow from the lake they were passing on the train. “You do not have to do this.” said Aoyama.
“Yes. I do believe I do,” Percy replied. “You saved my life, now I return the favor.”
They were heading West, as partners.